Advertising

The Seattle Times Company

NWjobs | NWautos | NWhomes | NWsource | Free Classifieds | seattletimes.com

Nation & World


Our network sites seattletimes.com | Advanced

Blogging Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.

RSS feeds Subscribe | E-mail |Home

August 17, 2008 4:02 AM

Stubborn in Beijing

Posted by Daniel Beekman

(Note: No attempt was made to contact the state-owned company referred to below, in accordance with the principal interviewees' wishes. This Blogging Beijing entry, therefore, speaks to one family's experience only. It does not constitute a full investigation. The principal interviewees also asked that their names be withheld. Ayi is the Chinese word for 'aunt.')

Her first day in court, Ayi heard someone say, "What a troublemaker! Does she want to ruin the Olympic Games?"

Months later, the native Beijinger hoisted an enormous Chinese flag above her splintered door.

"I put the flag there to make my heart less worried," she explained. "Seeing it helps me keep faith. I trust my country - I trust what's right.

"I don't want to make a fuss and spoil the Olympics. But I have no choice. That's what the flag means to me."

When it comes to property, modern Chinese law is all a muddle. Ayi is wading through the mud...waist deep.

Others have dubbed her a crusading dingzihu ('nail-house' fighter). A dingzihu can't be bought. A dingzihu hangs on to his or her property, whatever the consequences.

All Chinese land belongs, officially, to the state.

"We don't have private property in China," explained Matthew Gao, Secretary General of the Beijing Planner's Society. "The state wields a lot of power. When these disputes go to court, the common people usually lose."

In booming China, where hard-hat crews raze land faster than Olympic hurdler Liu Xiang flies 110 meters, dingzihu evoke a combination of pity, admiration and impatience.

Beijing boasted between 3,000 and 6,000 hutong - narrow, twisting alleys - in 1949. Less than 1,000 remain today.

"We're trying to preserve the city,' observed Gao. "But we can't preserve it all. Beijing is too big. Most of it will be torn down."

According to the government, some 500,000 Beijingers have relocated from the city's center since 1990. The Geneva-based Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions estimates 1.5 million - 165,000 per year since Beijing won the right to host the Olympic Games.

"I never intended to become a dingzihu," Ayi said.

"I put the flag there to keep my heart less worried," explained Ayi, an unwilling dingzihu.

Ayis's tiny courtyard - no heat, no water all winter.

The house in question, a crumbling, one-story jumble of wood and brick, fell July 15 - nearly after Ayi's battle began. Where it stood, workers are laying down a new road.

Ayi never owned the house. She and her husband were long-time renters. Nevertheless, she balked when their proprietor, a state-owned Chinese company, ordered them out last year.

"We were told a unit security guards would live in our home," Ayi said. "That's all. No notice. No paperwork. Nothing."

The company offered Ayi, her husband a son another place, outside Beijing's 3rd Ring Road. She refused.

"It was an inconvenient, dangerous building," said Ayi. "Plus, the apartment was tiny."

In November, a construction crew visited the neighborhood. After a day of digging, Ayi realized they'd cut her pipes - the house had no water or heat. All winter, she trudged five blocks to wash.

"Ten or twenty security guards settled in," Ayi said. "They sat around yelling and spitting. My son couldn't sleep.

"I asked a boss of the company how he could treat a child this way. I asked him - 'if it were your kid, what would you do.' 'My son is grown and abroad,' he answered. Pah!"

One chilly December day, Ayi remembers watching TV. Suddenly, her house began to shake. The demolition of Ayi's block had commenced.

"My husband ran outside with a knife and made them stop - they ran away," she said.

Ayi and her family received threatening, anonymous phone calls.

In January, the company took Ayi to court, claiming unpaid rent. Ayi explained she'd never paid on a month-to-month basis before.

The court advised she leave and requested that Ayi's suitor find the family another house. Again, Ayi demanded more.

Most of Ayi's neighbors - employees of the landowning company - vacated their condemned homes quietly.

"They didn't want to lose their jobs," she said. "The court, the police, the company - they were all in it together, for the money. Can you believe it?"

"Who should be involved in development? I'd argue four parties: government, developers, designers and citizens," said Neville Mars, a Dutch architect who runs a think-tank in Beijing. "Here, two of those four participate. It's the government and the developers alone."

According to Gao, developers run a gauntlet of red tape before Beijing allows them to build.

"We call it 'five permits and a document,'" he said.

Ayi's dispute dragged on. She moved her eight-year old son in with his grandparents and scrawled three lines of Chinese characters on the home's plaster wall.

"People live here! Proceed with caution! Demolishers will face consequences!"

"People live here! Proceed with caution! Demolishers will face consequences!"

Workers demolished Ayi's house in July.

June came and went. Workers erected a high, blue construction fence around the house - an attempt to "clean up the neighborhood for Beijing's Olympics," Ayi said.

And then, less than one month before the Games, it was over. The company showed Ayi to a new home 500 meters away.

"In most cases, I think people are happy to move," said a spokesman with high-end developer SOHO China (not the company involved). "What's at issue is compensation.

"SOHO generally acquires property already leveled. We don't want to be involved in the painful process of relocation. People get very attached to their land."

Ayi is half-furious, half-relieved. Her family's new house covers 100 square meters. It's larger than her previous place and closer to her son's primary school.

Still, its floors are unfinished concrete. There's a weedy courtyard and a trashed tool-shed. Worst of all, the house may not last long.

"My friend at the company told me this home scheduled for demolition next year," Ayi sighed. "We'll go through all this again."

Beijing will halt for the Olympics; most of the city's 5,000 building sites have already shut down. Organizers want clean air for the athletes - construction dust free.

As for Beijing's common people, they're looking forward to a breather. Because once the athletes leave...an army of bulldozers will, for better or worse, shudder back into gear.

Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

Comments
No comments have been posted to this article.
Recent entries

Aug 24, 08 - 02:08 AM
Personal note, thanks and goodbye

Aug 22, 08 - 08:43 AM
Olympic success for China?

Aug 18, 08 - 12:23 PM
Liu Xiang drops out

Aug 17, 08 - 04:04 AM
Beijing's Kite Master

Aug 17, 08 - 04:02 AM
Stubborn in Beijing

Advertising

Marketplace

LeBron James plugs Kia K900; Tesla Model X delay likelynew
(Kia) LeBron James teams with Kia Basketball star LeBron James has partnered with Kia to promote the K900, the brand's first rear-drive luxury sedan. ...
Post a comment

Advertising

Advertising

Categories
Calendar

February

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
Browse the archives

August 2008

July 2008

June 2008

May 2008

April 2008

March 2008